Professional Schools of the Built Environment: A 2020 Snapshot

Over the Summer of 2020, nine graduate research assistants at Columbia University’s Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture compiled and reviewed information on academic programs from professional schools of the built environment. Collectively, these researchers reviewed 218 higher education institutions across the United States which grant accredited and non-accredited degrees and certificates within the disciplines of architecture, landscape, planning, interior design, preservation, and building and construction management. Acknowledging that these degrees account for only a portion of the curricula through which students are today educated to understand and intervene in the built environment, what follows is an incomplete but nevertheless illuminating snapshot of the interconnected disciplines in the United States today—as the Buell Center looks ahead to how such programs might change during a “Green Reconstruction.”

Total Schools: 218 (68% Public, 32% Private)
Total Degrees Surveyed: 1132

Geography

Regionally, the South has the highest number of universities offering the most degrees, followed by the Northeast, the Midwest, and finally the West and Puerto Rico. The schools studied tended to be in US counties with higher-than-average population density and educational attainment, as well as a lower-than-average white population, as compared to all counties in the United States. 

The schools studied also tended to be in counties with a lower anticipated impact from climate change, as measured by the Climate Impact Lab’s map of anticipated mortality costs. While this is not a perfect measure, it offers a very high-level view of the context in which schools of the built environment train future professionals. 

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Adults Over 25 with No College Attendance or Degree and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 TIGER/Line Shapefiles, Generated by HK Dunston)

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White Population and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Generated by HK Dunston)

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Climate-Related Mortality Costs as Share of GDP and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered (Climate Impact Lab, “Estimating Economic Damage from Climate Change in the United States,” Generated by HK Dunston)

Cost and Region

Starting with lists of programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), the Landscape Architectural Accrediting Board (LAAB), the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and the Planning Accreditation Board (PAB), graduate research assistants gathered information on 1132 degree programs, including all programs taught within the same department as the degree programs listed with the accrediting organization. This allowed for gathering information not only on professional degrees, but also on degrees offered in complement with accredited programs, and on dual degree and certificates.

Researchers were also able to augment the information they collected with overall information about the universities, including average undergraduate tuition costs, which was used as a proxy measure to compare the costs of the degrees studied. 

Comparing areas of study by cost and separating out public vs private universities reveals some interesting patterns. While the cost comparisons across public universities’ degrees are fairly similar, there is significant variation in programs at private universities. Architecture programs, which make up 33% of all degree programs studied, make up 43% of programs offered at private universities. Private Architecture programs also appear in private universities with a wider range of tuition costs. Similarly, Interior Design degrees at private universities are offered at a wide range of tuition costs. 

The “other” category includes a variety of degree programs offered alongside the accredited degrees we studied, including Construction and Engineering, Historic Preservation, Urban Design, Sustainability and Sustainable Design, Real Estate Development, and more. This category makes up 27% of all degrees studied, and 30% of degrees in private universities. 

Urban Planning, on the other hand, makes up 25% of all degree programs, but only 11% of degree programs at private universities. Further, Urban Planning programs at private universities tend to be offered at private universities in the top tier of tuition costs. Landscape Architecture programs, like Urban Planning programs, are more likely to be found in public universities than private ones, making up 13% of all programs but only 6% of programs in private universities. 

Among Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning professional degrees, Architecture is the degree most often offered, whether alone or with other built environment degrees. The least likely degree to be offered alone is Landscape Architecture, offered by only nine schools. Urban Planning degrees, while offered alone more often than Landscape Architecture degrees, also sees the most overlap with Architecture degrees. In other words, in schools where a variety of built environment professional degrees are offered, they are offered as offshoots of or related to an architecture program.
 

"Frequency and Configuration of Built Environment degrees (Hayes Buchanan)

"(HK Dunston)

Adding the facet of region, the patterns of public programs remain fairly consistent across regions and areas of study, while programs at private universities offer more variation. Degree programs offered at universities in the Northeast make up 26% of all degrees but 57% of degrees at private universities. When examined regionally, it becomes clear that Urban Planning programs offered in private universities are centered in the Northeast, where they make up 14% of all Urban Planning programs, as compared to Urban Planning programs in private universities outside the Northeast, which make up only 4% of all Urban Planning programs. 

Universities in the South make up 34% of all universities we studied, but only 7% of private universities. Degree programs in the South make up 32% of all degree programs but only 12% of degree programs at private universities.
 

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(HK Dunston)

To make sense of these patterns in a statistically significant way and to compare them to patterns across all universities in the United States will require more research and analysis.


Other Characteristics

As the researchers collected information about degree programs, they gathered information about a variety of characteristics of each degree, including the area of the university where it was taught, whether it was accredited, whether it was offered as part of a dual degree program, and the level of the degree, from Associates to PhDs. 

Degrees By Level
Of the degree programs studied, Masters degrees were the most frequent, with Masters programs in private universities making up 17% of all degrees, and Masters programs in public universities making up 33% of all degrees. Architecture Masters programs make up 33% of all degrees, followed by Urban Planning Masters programs which make up 21% of all degrees. 

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(HK Dunston)

Degrees By Accreditation
Although research began with the gathering of data on accredited programs, 59% of the programs documented are unaccredited. Of the unaccredited programs, 39% were offered at public universities and 20% are offered in private universities. When evaluated by area of study, Architecture degrees account for 18% of unaccredited degrees and 16% of accredited degrees. 

Landscape Architecture programs make up 11% of all degree programs but 22% of accredited programs, primarily appearing at public universities. 80% of Landscape Architecture programs were accredited as compared with 48% for Interior Design, and 40% for Urban Planning. 
 

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(HK Dunston)

Dual Degrees
Only 13% of the degree programs evaluated offered dual degrees, although that number increases to 17% when examining only degrees offered at private universities. Of the Urban Planning degree programs, only 24% offered a dual degree option, as did 17% of the Landscape Architecture programs, 15% of the Architecture programs, 16% of other programs, but only 2% of the Interior Design programs. Urban Planning programs were more likely to offer a dual degree with programs outside of studies of the Built Environment, like Business, Law, Public Health, and Social Work. 

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(HK Dunston)

Types of Schools
Masters programs specifically in Architecture, Urban Planning, and Landscape Architecture are offered within different graduate departments. While variety in the type of school hosting a given program occurs across disciplines, it is particularly pronounced in Urban Planning. Of the Urban Planning degrees, 37% are offered within schools of the built environment, compared to 26% in public policy schools, 14% in schools of art & design, and 11% in liberal arts schools. Architecture and Landscape Architecture degrees appear more squarely in built environment schools or art & design schools, with 59% and 46% respectively in schools of the built environment and 32% and 34% in art & design schools. Notably, 15% of Landscape Architecture degrees can be found within Ecological or Agricultural schools.

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(HK Dunston)

 

Conclusion

While the patterns revealed in this dataset offer a preliminary glance into the state of built environment education, its possible applications are far more wide ranging. It’s difficult to draw evidence-based conclusions about the values of pedagogy across such a diverse body of schools and programs without the introduction of additional variables. We hope that this foundation will lead to a more textured understanding of these fields, and of the institutions that introduce new practitioners to them.
 


 

 

 

 

Map of the United States overalid with White Population (Percentage by US County) and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered

White Population and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Generated by HK Dunston)

Map of the United State overlaid with Climate-related Mortality Costs as Share of GDP and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered

Climate-related Mortality Costs as Share of GDP and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered (Climate Impact Lab, “Estimating Economic Damage from Climate Change in the United States”)

Map of the United States overlaid with Adults Over 25 with No College Attendance and Number of Built Envrionment Degree Programs Offered

Adults Over 25 with No College Attendance or Degree and Number of Built Environment Degree Programs Offered (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019 TIGER/Line Shapefiles)

    Published

Initiatives

Comparison of Tuition Costs by Area of Study

Comparison of Tuition Costs by Area of Study (HK Dunston)

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the Midwest by Area of Study

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the Midwest by Area of Study (HK Dunston)

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the Northeast by Area of Study

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the Northeast by Area of Study (HK Dunston)

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the South by Area of Study

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the South by Area of Study (HK Dunston)

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the West by Area of Study

Comparison of Tuition Costs in the West by Area of Study (HK Dunston)

Degrees by Level in Private and Public Universities

Degrees by Level in Private and Public Universities (HK Dunston)

Degrees by Accreditation in Private and Public Universities

Degrees by Accreditation in Private and Public Universities (HK Dunston)

Dual Degrees in Private and Public Universities

Dual Degrees in Private and Public Universities (HK Dunston)

Types of Schools in Private and Public Universities

Types of Schools in Private and Public Universities (HK Dunston)